Drawing of the Horse Armoury. Late 18th century (I.45)
Drawing of the Horse Armoury. Late 18th century (I.45)
The Horse Armoury, by an unknown artist, early 19th century © Royal Armouries 2013
James II from Charles Knight, London, 1842.
Carved wooden head of Henry VIII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.1)
Carved wooden head of Edward III. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.41)
Carved wooden head of Henry V. English, about 1688-91 (XVII.44)
Carved wooden head of Henry VII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.40)
Carved wooden head of James I. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.47)
Carved wooden head of William I. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.777)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. (XVII.10)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.11)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.12)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.14)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.16)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1865-90 (XVII.17)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.18)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.30)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. (XVII.7)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.8)
In 1688 many craftsmen became involved in the development of a new, expanded and improved Line of Kings display. This was the result of the Office of Ordnance having to remove its existing Horse Armoury exhibition so that the Tower’s Long Storehouse could be demolished and replaced by the Grand Storehouse. However, rather than having a room in the new Grand Storehouse when it was finished, the Horse Armoury’s new home would be the first floor of the New Store-house (now called the New Armouries).
The centrepiece of the new display was to be a line of life-sized wooden horses, each bearing the armoured figure of a king. It was decided to buy a complete new set of carved horses and figures with kings’ faces, with the exception of the carvings made by Grinling Gibbons in 1685-86. To complete the task, the Board of Ordnance turned to a variety of artists and craftsmen, including William Morgan.
Gibbons had supplied a horse and figure of Charles II in 1685 and one of Charles I in 1686 at a price of £40 each. However, in 1688 the Board did not turn to Gibbons, the leading woodcarver in England, but instead issued contracts for varying numbers of wooden horses and figures with kings’ faces to William Morgan and four others: William Emmett, John Nost I, Thomas Quellin and Marmaduke Townson. Between them these five carvers and sculptors made seventeen wooden horses and figures for the Line: several of the heads with faces survive and about half of the horses. Although they cannot at present be definitely identified, it is almost certain that several of the surviving carvings were made by Morgan and his workshop team.
William Morgan was a wood carver who was contracted to supply more horses and figures for the new Line of Kings than any other craftsman. Office of Ordnance documents reveal that on 31 May 1688 a warrant was issued for the carving of one wooden horse and figure – the first such warrant that indicates a plan for a bigger and better Line of Kings. This warrant became Morgan’s initial contract of 16 August 1688 which led to him delivering the finished work one month later:
’16th September 1688
Received into his Majesty’s stores etc of Armoury from William Morgan the statues hereafter mentioned being for patterns for his Majesty’s service per contract 6 August 1688 and warrant 31st May 1688
Horse statue of wood carved in its full proportion 1
Statue of wood whereon a face is carved 1
The phrase ‘… being for patterns …’ may suggest that this horse and figure with a carved face were the prototypes for other carvings to follow, although other interpretations of its meaning are possible. Similar wording occurs in the documentation for William Emmet’s carvings. The commission must have been judged a success because it was followed by a warrant and contract for six more horses and figures from Morgan:
’27 March 1689
Received into his Majesty’s stores of Armoury within this Office from William Morgan the statues hereafter mentioned per warrant 16th August 1688 viz per contract 16th ditto 1688
Horse statues of wood carved 6
Statue of wood whereon faces are carved 6
At £20 pc
Given that Morgan supplied 7 out of 17 of the new horses and figures, representing over 40% of the order, it would seem likely that at least some of his carvings have survived among the extant horses and heads, unless his materials and workmanship were inferior to the goods supplied by the other carvers.
However, it seems improbable that Morgan would have made poor quality carvings as he is known to have been a top-quality carver who worked on several other prestigious commissions – although all very different to the Tower’s heads and horses.
William Morgan is first recorded as a woodcarver of fine quality in 1682 when he was one of the craftsmen who carved decoration for the chapel at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Morgan is documented as providing eight festoons for the altarpiece of this important royal project. He worked at the Royal Hospital again in 1687, including on the Council Chamber, and on 5 April 1688 is documented as receiving the considerable sum of £175/3s/6d . At this time, not long before the Ordnance’s warrant for the first carved horse and royal figure, Morgan was working at Chelsea alongside William Emmett who was one of the other recipients of a contract from the Ordnance. The Royal Hospital documents record:
‘Wm Emmett, carver, for carveing worke in the hall, councell chamber, in the chappell, makinge fflower potts and other worke ccxijli iiijs iiijd ob. Wm Morgan, carver, for the like worke clxxvli iijs vijd
William Morgan must have been enterprising and industrious, with the support of a workshop of craftsmen to assist him, because at the same time as his London commissions he was also busy supplying carved decoration in Scotland. Between 1686 and 1688 Morgan was working alongside Grinling Gibbons on another royal commission at Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh. King James II & VII commissioned woodcarvings from William Morgan & Gibbons during the conversion of parts of Holyrood into a Catholic Chapel Royal and chapel for the Order of the Thistle, including canopied stalls & a throne with armorial canopy . The architect was James Smith, who was also employing Morgan to supply decorative friezes, chimneypieces picture frames and staircases at Hamilton Palace, Hamilton, in Scotland.
Between 1684 and 1700 Smith and Morgan were working for William 3rd Duke of Hamilton (died1694) and Anne 3rd Duchess (1632-1716) after her husband’s death. Morgan’s account survives for carvings of flowers, animals, birds, fish, stars & cinquefoils, with a precept for payment by the Duchess, 20 March 1700, and a receipt signed by Morgan.
Morgan was employed extensively in the palace’s most important chambers. In the Great Dining Room, he carved the architrave frieze, mouldings and cornice, the chimneypiece ‘with fish and foule and flowers’, and the picture frames and friezes over the chimney and doors. He also supplied 176 medallions at six shillings a piece, 180 cinquefoils and stars (from the Hamilton coat of arms) between the medallions, and two Corinthian capitals. His work in the Drawing Room was of a similar nature, the chimney being richly carved with coronets and flowers.
For the Bedchamber Morgan provided decorative friezes, capitals and a chimneypiece, and in its Closet the Duchess’s cipher, ‘with 2 boys supporting itt’. The Closet frieze had cherubim and foliage over the doors and there were the usual cinquefoils and stars. The staircase had ten large panels with ‘boys and beasts’, ten pendant flowers – possibly candelabra -and four Ionic capitals with festoons. Unfortunately, as at Holyrood, most of this work is lost as the Palace was demolished in 1921, although its Dining Room with a magnificently carved fireplace by Morgan is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
William Morgan is also known to have worked for architect James Smith on at least one other Scottish project, Melville House, Fife. There he provided fine carved decoration for George, 1ST Earl of Melville between about 1697 and 1702.
Morgan was a Liveryman of the Joiners Company. The details of his birth and death are currently uncertain but it has been suggested that his career extended from about 1673 to 1711.